Kalyāṇa-mittatā: Spiritual Friendship

The subject of admirable friendship, particularly in the realm of one’s spirituality, might sound obvious at first. Even so, I think it is worthy of further thought.

It is said that one of the Buddha’s closest disciples, Ananda, once stated that admirable friendship, companionship, and camaraderie are half of the holy life. The Buddha, by way of a rebuke, offered the following correction:

Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path. Upaddha Sutta

Thinking on this now, I take it as a lesson on how the company we choose to keep influences us and serves as a condition for our future happiness or suffering. If I choose to associate with people who are out all weekend partying, how would that influence me? Inversely, if I instead choose to cultivate a relationship with a person I perceive as a holy one, how might that alter my future?

Many hundreds of years ago, one of the early monks recounts in a brief poem:

I’m blind,
my eyes are destroyed.
I’ve stumbled
on a wilderness track.
Even if I must crawl,
I’ll go on,
but not with an evil companion.
Theragatha (1.95 Cakkhupala)

I am amazed at the candor expressed by the elder monks who suffered for the cause of liberation. Even in that time, as now, there must have been so very few true sages in the world and a surplus of fakes. I suppose it has always been easier to put one’s trust in a fool than to seek a truly worthy person or choose to go it alone.

Biblical proverbs offer some support on this, also:

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Proverbs 22

A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding. Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. Proverbs 14

It is always fun to draw from more than one wellspring of wisdom.

It seems imperative that we each evaluate the friends we choose to keep — seeking only the influence of the most virtuous or, failing that, walking one’s path alone.  Think about it and be well, friends.

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